Moving to a New City? Six Ways to Quickly Establish a Sense of Home
Get around, get acquainted and invest yourself to make a new city feel like home
By Megan Murdock Krischke, contributor
Travel nurses aren’t the only ones who find themselves moving to a new city every few months. Heidi Williams Pitts is an expert at moving, having moved nine times in seven years (both domestically and internationally) for her work to alleviate poverty with Servant Partners. The success of her projects depends on integrating into the community, so she has learned how to quickly make a new place her new hometown.
Here are Pitts’ top six suggestions to make a strange city feel like home in record time:
1. Put on your walking shoes
After moving to a new city, one of the best things you can do is walk in your new neighborhood and around town as much as possible, Pitts said. She recommends that when you are in a new place you avoid using private vehicles as much as possible and hit the pavement. Public transportation is her second favorite choice because it gets you interacting with people.
“I feel like I notice so much more when I am walking. It is a sensory experience and helps me feel more connected to the earth in the midst of so much transition,” she reflected. “The first few days in a new place you are tempted to just rest and unpack and you can end up staying inside a lot. How you live your first week can set the tone for how you live in a place--you’ve got to get out. When you are out, say hi to the people you pass, notice how people are interacting, what is the pace of life like.”
Take some time to study a map of your new location. Check it out on Google Earth to get a sense of the topography. You might even set up a scavenger hunt for yourself as a fun way to learn your new place.
2. Choose a watering hole
A great way to make a new place feel like home and to meet new people is to choose a local gathering place and become a regular. Whether that watering hole serves happy hour cocktails or coffee and tea, it is important to have a place away from home that feels familiar and comfortable. Let the bartenders or baristas know that you are new to town--maybe they can help connect you with other regulars in their establishment.
3. Learn the grocery store
Finding the nearest grocery store or natural foods market is always a top priority, but it also takes some time to learn the layout of the store. You’ll feel more like a local when you can direct another customer to the pickles, for instance. Knowing the layout can also make shopping feel like a pleasure rather than a chore.
“Being able to buy and cook your own food instead of eating in restaurants is a very homey thing,” added Pitts.
4. Do something you love (with other people)
What do you love to do? Zumba? Ride motorcycles? Talk about books? Play cards? Attend church? Dance the salsa? There’s a group for that, and for a myriad of other activities and sports.
Find a sports league and join it. Running clubs and hiking clubs are good choices in many places, as well. In fact, the Internet makes it easy to uncover nearly endless possibilities in cities and towns across the country. Check out sites like MeetUp.com. Peruse websites and bulletin boards at coffee shops, community centers, churches, athletic stores, etc. to find a group of like-minded enthusiasts. The important thing is that you don’t stay home alone in your apartment, binge-watching '90s TV shows on Netflix.
5. Bypass the superficial to make friends quickly
Frequent travelers have learned that it helps to skip the small talk. When you are in a place for only a little while, you don't have time to warm up a relationship before talking about things that matter to you, and it's those kinds of conversations that cement a relationship over time and distance.
It may be tempting to not even try to make real friends, knowing that you'll be gone in a few weeks, but that's a lonely way to live. It might feel awkward and earn you some funny looks, but--if you are willing to risk it--try skipping straight to the things you are passionate about, the life questions you are wrestling with and the honest truth about what you're feeling. You might make a friend in a few hours who stays a friend for life.
Pitts says she often has her radar up for a person who seems open to a relationship and then consistently initiates with that person. She says it is important to remember that those who aren’t new to a place have established relationships and routines; just because they don’t initiate with you doesn’t mean they don’t like you. They just didn’t think of it. When you become friends with that one person, it often follows that his or her social network becomes your social network.
Speaking of social networks, use your own networks to find out if there are any friends of friends living in your new place--most people are glad to meet and to help out a friend’s friend.
6. Take the risk to invest where you are
In whatever ways you choose, the important thing is to risk emotional investment wherever you are, according to Pitts. "The main challenge is dealing with the difficulty of knowing that another move is likely and that if I invest now in the place where I am, that it is going to make me sad." But if you never invest in a new city, you will end up feeling rootless and lost.
"If I don’t invest here, I can probably get through and come through unruffled and still do plenty of good work," Pitts explains, "but I won’t have the attachment or the understanding of who these people are or what the place is. I will miss out on a much richer experience."
And wouldn’t that miss the point of traveling in the first place?
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